Ichiro Fujisaki was the Japanese Ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2012. He has worked in the Japanese government since 1969, and having finished his time as an ambassador is using his expertise to lead a diplomatic tour called “Walk in U.S., Talk on Japan.” Over several trips, the tour brings Fujisaki as well as other experts on Japanese politics and culture to give talks to American audiences in an attempt to strengthen grassroots ties between the two countries. WKND interviewed him after an intimate luncheon in Rosenkranz Hall, where he and others talked about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Japan’s economic situation and aging population, and how U.S.-Japanese relations have transformed over the years.

Q: How is the tour structured?  What places have you visited?

A: It’s the prime minister’s office idea to send this troupe not only to the big cities but smaller cities and universities.  This is the eleventh [trip to the US], and the third time for me.  On the first tour I went to Ohio and Indiana, and on the second tour Arizona and California.  This time I’m going to Connecticut, Maine, and Massachusetts.

Q: Which was your favorite state so far?

A: Well, of course that would be Connecticut.

Q: What is the core purpose of the tour?  What kinds of things do you hope to accomplish?

A: Two things.  We would like to tell you about what Japan is now, not only the good parts but problems as well.  [We want to explain] what problems the economy is facing, how we are restoring from the earthquake, how we are coping with an aging society.  [Everything] has a good side and a difficult side.  My second point is that if look at the composition of the group, [there are] two senior men and three young ladies.  We want to show the U.S. that it’s not only silver hair and bald men sitting in a row, but there are ladies and young people.  They’re already in the team.

Q: That reminds me of what you said during your talk earlier, about needing to mobilize new labor forces in Japan.  Are you serious about bringing more women into the workplace?

A: [Prime Minister] Abe has been thinking that in order to cope with the decreasing population we need to utilize more women.  Some people would call it “women-omics.”  In order to do that we have to have more nurseries, so that working mothers can have their children [and their careers].  We also need to shorten the working time so they can go home earlier; [we don’t want] long, long hours of work.  The government and big corporations are now pushing [for these reforms] and we hope that small and medium companies can follow as well.  The establishment of nurseries has been done by public money as well, and there’s a very strong commitment to that.

Q: You also spoke about historical problems between Japan and other countries.  Can you tell us about how problems between Japan and the U.S. have been resolved as opposed to those between Japan and other countries?

A: We always have to face history, this is true.  It was good that the Prime Minister made a statement this August saying that we Japanese have the responsibility to convey the history to the generation after us and even the one after that.  We have to face the history with humility, that is the really important part.  People often say that we try to forget history.  However, it’s important that while we remember we don’t concentrate on just that.  Japan and the US have had difficult times.  For example, there was racial discrimination against Japanese immigrants in California, and Japanese Americans were put into campus during the War; Hiroshima and Nagasaki and all the major cities were wiped out during the war by air raids.  From the U.S. side you can say there was a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.  These are all facts of history.  But if we just concentrated on talking about that, we would not have gotten to where we are now.  We face the history but we are positive and try to construct new relations; from that we have come to a real strong alliance.  80% percent of Japanese think they like Americans and 80% of Americans have affinity towards Japan.  Looking back on the difference between the cultures and our history of war, it’s amazing that in only 70 years we were able to establish this kind of relationship.  And it didn’t just come natural.  It was not only because [political issues]; it’s because people have tried to exchange through grassroots and cultural exchange, because Japanese culture such as anime was accepted here and American Hollywood movies and MLB were admitted in Japan and people started to accept each other.

That seems like the kind of thing this tour is trying to accomplish.

This team is one working on the grassroots side trying to show what Japan is.  We’re not trying to gather 300 people in a room, but rather have smaller discussions [such as today’s].  It’s quite a hectic schedule; we are doing the trip in only four days and on Saturday we are going back to Japan.   But it’s worthwhile going around.  I appeared on NPR yesterday, and it’ll be broadcasted on Friday.  We want to convey the challenges and achievement of this Japanese have been doing.

Q: Do you think the relationship between Japan and the U.S. is satisfactory at this point?

A: Yes, I think so, but it’s not without effort.  And I always say that three things are important, especially from the government point of view.  One is, no surprises.  Second is, no over-politicization.  Third is, don’t take things for granted.  Between individuals there can be pleasant surprise – a Christmas present, or going on a date.  But between two countries there are no good surprises.  You have to know each other well.  The second point [against over-politicization] is because politicians make things bigger, and if it’s bigger it’s difficult to solve.  It’s best to do things as discreetly as possible.  Third, don’t take things for granted.  After several years [in a relationship], even in marriage, you think you are doing this much, he’s not doing enough for me.  But we have been married for almost 70 years.  It’s possible that we think we are not being appreciated or you think we are defending Japan and Japan is not appreciative of that.  Let’s try to appreciate what others are doing and express gratitude rather than take things for granted.